Customer Service is a Critical Marketing Attribute

gondola This blog post might have been titled “A Tale of Two Gondolas” because the subject matter comes directly from a recent experience in Venice, Italy. My wife and I were there on a trip and another family member in our group suggested a gondola ride based on her recent experience. She raved about her gondola operator and how he not only gave them a great tour but also sang to them (in Italian, of course).

Disappointingly, our gondola adventure was far different. Instead of singing and giving us the history of the Venice canals, our guide Marco was speechless. I finally asked him why, if the experience was labeled as a tour, he wasn’t telling us anything. He responded in a thick accent, “Don’t tell me how to do my job.”  This of course, did not endear him to our party. After that, Marco would occasionally mutter something like, “There’s the house where Mozart stayed when he spent time in Venice.” The women with us were more excited by seeing the Aman Hotel, the site of the recent George Clooney wedding.

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When we got back to the gondola dock, I paid Marco his 80 Euros, but complained to the first official-looking person I found. This didn’t get any results, so I told Marco that I would go to the gondola licensing board website (whatever that was) and lodge a complaint about his rudeness and our disappointment with the experience. He huffed and thrust the 80 Euros back into my hand.

Figuring the guy was just having a bad day and did refund the fare, we did not file a complaint. However, there was nothing positive about the experience for Marco and it had several negative repercussions that provide some lessons on what not to do from a marketing and customer service perspective.

  1. Don’t treat your customers/clients rudely. People will forgive almost anything, but they will not forget or forgive rudeness. And the customers you treat rudely are much more likely to talk about it publically than those who are neutral or positive.
  2. Be responsive when customers tell you they have a problem. In this example, I could have gotten over the initial problems had Marco listened to, and responded to, my complaints. Since he reacted rudely (see preceding point), the situation had only one direction to go – downhill.
  3. If you are going to be in a position where you deal with the public, pretend you actually like them. You don’t have to necessarily sing to them in Italian, but try to be pleasant. And if you can’t be pleasant, choose a different occupation. Customer-facing employees, ranging from the corporate receptionist to the restaurant hostess to the gondola operator, need to have a spirit of service and friendliness. No exceptions.
  4. Remember that poorly treated customers have recourse. In this example, I could have reported the gondola operator to the tourism authorities. Or I could have complained online and told other Venice visitors to beware of this guy. Assume that every action (good or bad) you take with a prospect tor customer will be reported on and act accordingly.

The most important point is that customer service strongly impacts your marketing. Even the strongest value proposition and compelling offer can be derailed if the customer experience is poor – especially in industries where mistreated customers have an online voice.

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Christopher Ryan

Christopher Ryan has 25 years of marketing, technology, and senior management experience. As both a marketing executive and services provider, Chris has created and executed numerous programs that build market awareness, drive lead generation and increase revenue.
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